'Constantine' adds to TV's comic-book trend

Story highlights

  • "Constantine," based on the cult favorite comic book series "Hellblazer," debuts today
  • It's the latest of several new comics-based TV series
  • Cast and crew say the greatest compliment would be fan approval
Stop me if you've heard this one before.
A TV series based on a comic book series premieres Friday.
There have been a lot of them lately, from "Gotham" to "The Flash" (and of course the ratings juggernaut "The Walking Dead"). They've done quite well this season: Both "Gotham" and "Flash" received full-season pickups.
NBC's new offering, "Constantine," is a riskier proposition. It's based on the story of cult character John Constantine, the chain-smoking exorcist antihero from the "Hellblazer" comic books. Keanu Reeves played him in a 2005 film version, which got a lukewarm reception.
Even so, the show seems well-suited to NBC's Friday night horror lineup, following the sleeper hit "Grimm."
CNN visited the Atlanta set of "Constantine" and spoke with Constantine himself, Matt Ryan, as well as his co-star Charlie Halford (who plays one of John's sidekicks, Chas), and later spoke to executive producer Daniel Cerone.
The set itself included a cobweb-filled library that serves as John's base of operations. Watching a contortionist portray a demon-possessed woman seemed to be just another day at the office here.
In between scenes, we asked their thoughts on whether the show had what it takes to be another comics-based hit.
CNN: Do you think the hardcore fans will enjoy this series?
Matt Ryan: I think the fans will get a lot out of this series. I hope they will. The source material is so amazing. We're really trying to stay true to that. We're transposing it to this medium of television. We're staying true to this character in the comics. The fans will hopefully come with us, and new fans will like the show as will.
Daniel Cerone: The fans are very important to us. I'm fortunate enough to have as my partner David Goyer, who has brought comic books to life in films. We are fans of the property; it's a property that David loves and wanted to bring to screen. For us, it's a dream come true. It would never occur to us to be anything less than loyal to the fans.
CNN: Do you understand why fans would be nervous?
Charlie Halford: I totally understand that. I like to think that we're stepping up to the plate, at least with this show. The greatest compliment we can hope to receive is the blessing of die-hard "Hellblazer" fans. Everyone involved with the show have become relatively big fans of the comic book. You keep wanting to read one story then the next and the next. I asked the writers, what's the "bible" for this show? They said, "It's the 'Hellblazer' comic." I took great confidence in that.
Ryan: A very good friend of mine has his own comic book company, and for years, he's been telling me about John Constantine being his favorite comic book character and "Hellblazer" his favorite book. Ever since I got the part, he keeps sending me emails: "Why don't you do this storyline or that storyline?" It's like I've got my own personalized fan who's feeding me all the great things about the character. I didn't know that much about it until I delved about the comics, and the more I'm reading, the more I'm loving.
CNN: Compared with "The Walking Dead," for example, how much of the show is directly from the comic?
Halford: You've got 350 issues of a comic book that ran for almost 30 years. If we ever needed a storyline, they just go right back to the comic books. With some of these episodes we've been shooting recently, it's as though these characters walked right off the page. Hopefully, that resonates with the fans.
Cerone: Our perceived story arc is based on his first appearance in "Swamp Thing." They were facing this menace called the "rising darkness," a force trying to create this climate of fear across the world, to enable a large evil to be born into the world. That arc from "Swamp Thing" is exactly what we're bringing to "Constantine." Week to week, we have to find our own stories. Sometimes they're from the comics, sometimes not.
Ryan: To be honest, I've tried to absorb the comics and let that influence me. You have to stay true to the essence of it, but you have to give it your take as well. The most important thing for me was, what is John about? It's just trying to find that and how I connect to that. There's bits of me in there as well and fleshing it out as well.
Cerone: It's a little bit easier for us, since we're not a show about superheroes, and John Constantine doesn't have superpowers. In a way, we're more of a horror show than a comic-book show. For us, as a horror show, it might be easier than other straight comic-book adaptations. For us, the draw of the show was the character himself. John Constantine is a character we haven't seen on television. He isn't afraid to thumb his nose at any form of evil. He's just a really fun, inventive character. His costume is a trench coat and a skinny tie. He fits our reality.
CNN: "Hellblazer" was definitely a book for mature audiences. What can you get away with at 10 p.m. on a Friday on network TV?
Cerone: We're always trying to find that balance. To NBC's credit, more often than not, we'll turn in a script or a cut of an episode, and NBC will say, "Take it further; make it more extreme." They'll push us to make it darker. They understand the way people watch television, at least for this kind of show. David Goyer and myself are censoring ourselves with what you can and can't do on television, and it's NBC that's telling us to take it further.